HC Deb 29 March 1988 vol 130 cc978-1006

'It shall be the right of any tenant of the Scottish Special Housing Association whose home is transferred to Scottish Homes under section 3(1) above to decide whether his home shall continue to be vested in Scottish Homes or whether it shall be transferred to

  1. (a) the district or islands council in whose area it stands; or
  2. (b) any approved landlord.'.—[Mr. Home Robertson.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Home Robertson

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to take the following: New clause 18—Rights of SSHA tenants`Nothing in this Act shall affect the security of tenure or the conditions of tenancy agreed between the Scottish Special Housing Association and a tenant unless the tenant agrees to any such change and, in the event of disagreement between the tenant and the landlord or future landlord, the tenant shall have the right of appeal to the appropriate rent officer or rent assessment committee.'. New clause 19—Transfer of ownership of Scottish Homes houses `The transfer to a private landlord or landlords of ownership of any house owned or administered by Scottish Homes shall not take place without the written consent of the tenant of that house, in cases where the tenant had the tenancy of the house at the time of the establishment of Scottish Homes.'.

Mr. Home Robertson

New clause 9 deals with the rights and prospects of tenants of the Scottish Special Housing Association. The SSHA still has 83,000 houses throughout Scotland and the tenants in those houses are understandably anxious about the Government's plans for them. I should like at the outset to pay tribute to the powerful and effective response that has been brought to bear by SSHA tenants to the threat posed by the Scottish Homes consultation document, which was published by the previous Minister for Housing in Scotland before he lost his seat of Edinburgh, South in May 1987.

That consultation document referred to the establishment of a landlord division of Scottish Homes as an essentially transitional … holding operation to administer SSHA housing stock until it can be transferred into the private sector or somewhere else, out of sight and out of mind so far as the Government are concerned.

The consultation paper went on to say that Scottish Homes would not need any programme of new housebuilding". Therefore, the Government clearly had it in mind at that stage to phase out the SSHA, or its successor organisation, Scottish Homes, as a provider of public sector rented housing in Scotland. In other words, in the Government's view, the SSHA was an undesirable phenomenon, to be run down and disposed of, regardless of the opinions of the tenants in those 83,000 SSHA houses.

The tenants concerned were not going to put up with such treatment. We have seen an impressive campaign over the past year on behalf of the SSHA tenants' organisations. There have been media rallies in different parts of Scotland. I was present at a rally in Edinburgh on 27 February and was impressed by the number of tenants and their families who turned out to take part in a march in Prince's street and to fill the Usher hall to make it abundantly clear that they did want to be pushed around by the Government or by anybody else. They wanted to retain their existing tenants' rights and security.

I suppose that we should acknowledge the fact that the Government have moved slightly on this question since the original consultation document was published. They recognise the overwhelming weight of opinion and, as a result, both the White Paper and the Bill made no specific reference to the Government's objective of disposing of SSHA houses when they are transferred to Scottish Homes. Nevertheless, the implied threat is still there. The Government have made it clear that they do not like the concept of public sector rented housing and that they would rather farm out that housing stock in other directions.

There was an interesting development in the Shetland Islands in recent months, and no doubt the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) will want to refer to it, if he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker. The Scottish Special Housing Association is attempting to unload its housing stock in the Shetland Islands on to a housing association in the area, despite the fact that a significant number of the tenants have made it clear that they would prefer either to remain with the SSHA or to have the option of transferring to the Shetland islands council. Those tenants should have been consulted about that proposed transfer of public sector housing stock.

9.30 pm

This experience underlines the fears that many of the tenants inevitably feel after the questions that have been raised about their homes in various Government publications during the past year. They are entitled to be suspicious of the Government's motives and of the nominees whom the Government will appoint to the hoard of Scottish Homes. There is no proposal for any direct representation for tenants of Scottish Homes on the boa rd of Scottish Homes. That is a serious shortcoming in the constitution for Scottish Homes as laid down in the Bill. The absence of tenant representation underlines the fears that tenants have expressed.

Obviously, SSHA tenants do not want to be pushed out of their secure tenancies and the fair rents which they enjoy into new-style, insecure tenancies with sky-high rents under the assured tenancy system which the Government propose. The Government have clearly rejected the case for a ballot for SSHA tenants which we put in Standing Committee—so much for all the Government's slogans about tenants' choice. There is not much sign of tenants' choice for these people. They will not even be represented, let alone given an opportunity to choose whether to stay with the SSHA.

The new clause will establish a clear-cut right for SSHA tenants to choose whether to stay with Scottish Homes, whether to transfer to their local authority, whether to transfer, if possible, with continuing secure tenants' rights to a housing association or other approved landlord or whether to take the big risk of abandoning all their rights and becoming assured tenants in the private sector. These tenants should have an opportunity to decide what happens to their houses, where they may have been tenants for a long time.

I cannot believe that many SSHA tenants would take the option of transferring to assured tenancies. My conversations with my constituents who are tenants of the SSHA in various parts of East Lothian reveal that it is likely that a substantial number would like to take the option of transferring to the local authority. Who can blame them? Local authorities in many parts of Scotland have a good record as landlords, whatever the Government may like to say about them. I urge the House positively to consider the suggestion that 83,000 SSHA households should be given a genuine and fair choice about the future of their tenancies and their homes.

Mr. Bill Walker

I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State realises that many Conservative Members and my supporters believe that there are already sufficient tenants in the public sector in Scotland. Consequently, we believe that the imbalance that exists should be redressed. The only way to do that is to ensure that there is an increase in the private sector, which we are making possible in the Bill, and that those who transfer from the SSHA to Scottish Homes either remain with Scottish Homes or take the other options open to them.

I should oppose those people becoming tenants of local authority landlords because, contrary to what the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) said, local authorities have not been the world's best landlords. Frequently, they have been very poor landlords. Many of my constituents' complaints have arisen from the fact that the local authority has not behaved as well as it should. I know a number of tenants of the Scottish Special Housing Association, and I would not wish them to be moved into the care of the local authorities in whose areas they live.

Mr. Home Robertson

What SSHA houses are there in the hon. Gentleman's constituency?

Mr. Walker

They are not in my constituency. Unlike the hon. Member for East Lothian, I know a lot of people who live in council houses and SSHA houses. Many of them grew up with me and I know their children. That is a fact of life. The hon. Gentleman probably knows far more people who live in castles than I do. I am not being nasty, but it would not surprise me, given his background. He ought not to be surprised, therefore, that I know many more people who live in SSHA houses than he does, and I would be totally opposed to their having a landlord like the local authority inflicted upon them.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

I welcome the new clause tabled by the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson). As I understood the thinking behind the Bill and the White Paper that preceded it, the intention was to extend the scope of choice for tenants. As it now seems likely that Scottish Homes will be created, the new clause would seem admirably suited to allowing an increase in tenants' choice.

As I understand it, under the new clause an SSHA tenant would be able to opt to transfer to Scottish Homes, to the local housing authority, or to any approved landlord. He cannot, of course, choose the status quo. Once Scottish Homes—a centralising quango—has been created, the tenant will not be able to decide to continue with his landlord of many years' standing, however satisfactory. Nevertheless, as Scottish Homes is to be created, the new clause is useful because it will enable the tenant to have a wider choice than would otherwise be the case.

It was often said in Committee that the theme of the Bill was "pick a landlord". As my hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) pointed out, the phrase "choose a tenant" was more appropriate in some respects. The new clause would make the concept of picking a landlord more apt.

I wonder why the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) is so opposed to that. He seems to accept that tenants should be allowed to choose Scottish Homes or a private landlord. If so, why should tenants be denied the freedom to choose a municipal landlord? The hon. Gentleman seems to advocate a denial of choice. The Tory party tells us that it is the party of freedom and of individual choice. I cannot understand why Conservative Members are so ready to deny tenants a choice open to them at present—a choice that some of my constituents have welcomed.

As the hon. Member for East Lothian said, the issue has been highlighted sharply in Shetland in recent months. If events in Shetland are a forerunner of what will happen under Scottish Homes, they are worth studying. The matter was debated in Committee, and I do not propose to go into the history in detail. There has been a background of dispute between Shetland islands council and the SSHA over factoring by the council. Over a number of years it became clear that the SSHA took the view that its tenants in Shetland were isolated from tenants in the rest of its housing stock. The association felt that the tenants were not getting the service that it would have liked.

Latterly, the SSHA proposed that tenants should be offered the option of becoming tenants of the Hjaltland housing association. The option of transfer to a housing association had been put forward in March 1984, when the tenants were consulted at a public meeting, but the SSHA itself accepted that that option was not particularly well developed at that time.

When approached in the latter part of 1986, the Hjaltland housing association did not object in principle to the transfer of tenants, but made it plain to the SSHA that if tenants were to be given that option, it was important that sufficient time be given for them to be properly consulted. The sorry episode that subsequently developed does not give one any confidence in the consultation methods that were adopted by the SSHA. One fears that such a lack of consultation would also be the case with its successor body. That episode does not give us any encouragement that the new legislation will be a marker on the road to greater tenant choice.

A public meeting was arranged in November last year to explain the situation to tenants. It was explained that there would be full consultation with them, which would start immediately. Unfortunately, only three days were set aside by the SSHA, when only 50 of the 142 SSHA tenants in Shetland were visited.

The SSHA then published comments that were highly critical of the local authority. Following that, the local authority took steps to meet the SSHA to see whether it could resolve the differences. At the meeting some important agreements were reached, including, first, that in any subsequent transfer of a tenancy, an independent source of advice would be available to the tenants; secondly, that all options were to be discussed, including the possibility of transfer to the local authority.

However, only a week after that a letter was sent out by the SSHA to all tenants. They were not given the option of transferring to the local authority; they were set a deadline. The letter was sent out on 18 December—a week before Christmas and two week before new year. The deadline was 31 January, by which time they had to make up their minds. The letter stated: I would ask you to indicate your views on the transfer of your tenancy to Hjaltland by January 31st 1988 and unlees I hear from you before that date, it will be assumed that you are prepared to support the Association's recommendation that you should become a Hjaltland tenant. It is not acceptable that tenants should be put in the position of making a positive reply or else finding that their rights as tenants and their legal status are transferred. That seems wholly inequitable, but it was the manner in which the SSHA went about its business that should be noted. The time given was far too short. It did not allow an adequate opportunity for full and independent advice to be taken. In the short time available, Tenants' Participatory Advisory Services came to Shetland and efforts were made by the local authority to consult the tenants.

Along with others, I approached the SSHA to ask it to extend the period of time within which the tenants were to reply. That was not agreed, although subseqently it has been in practice. There has been some doubt about what response there had been. When the Minister addressed the Committee on 25 February, he suggested that the results had been submitted to his Department, but in a written answer to me last week he refused to disclose what the results were.

Through correspondence between the chairman of the SSHA and my hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire I have some indication of the result. Of the 88 tenants who replied, an analysis has shown that 40 per cent. of all SSHA tenants wished to transfer to the Shetland islands council, 12 per cent. wished to remain with the SSHA and 6 per cent. requested more time.

The letter continued: 43 per cent. did not respond and in terms of the Association's letter could be assumed not to object to their tenancies being transferred". I have no doubt that the figures are accurate, but it seems a distortion of the truth because 57 per cent. responded, of whom 70 per cent. — I draw that figure to the attention of the hon. Member for Tayside, North—wanted to be transferred to the local authority, 20 per cent. to remain with the SSHA, and 10 per cent. wanted more time for consideration. Clearly, no one positively sought a transfer to the Hjaltland housing association.

It is unfortunate that the Hjaltland housing association has been dragged into this by the less than satisfactory means used by the SSHA. The Hjaltland housing association is a reputable housing association, with a good record in Shetland, not least in providing housing for single people. It is regrettable that the local image of the association has been tarnished to some extent by an incident for which it can carry no blame whatever.

9.45 pm

Why, if the Government are anxious to promote the idea of choice for tenants, is that choice not open to tenants who have said that they wish their tenancies to be transferred to Shetland Islands council? In Committee the Minister said that, under section 12(7) of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987, the transfers were possible. If they are possible, why should tenants be denied the choice? We want a clear and direct answer to that question.

It is now being said that tenants can still transfer to the local housing association if they do so before 30 September this year—indeed, before the implementation of the Bill, if it is implemented. What happens if there is a transfer to the housing association before that date, and there is a subsequent transfer within housing stock belonging to the association? Will tenants' rights be subsequently lost—the rights guaranteed to them under the proposed terms of transfer?

It also seems unfair, although at present possibly quite attractive, to offer tenants, until 30 September, terms better than those that would be given after the Bill comes into operation. That is an indication of how tenants' rights will be restricted, rather than increased, by the legislation.

Many people would like to know the answers to those questions. Why will tenants not get their first choice, and what will be their rights if they have not exercised their transfer rights by 30 September? If the Government cannot give a satisfactory answer, the legislation will be shown up for what some of us suspect it to be: a manoeuvre, in the guise of individual choice, designed in reality to emasculate the public sector—especially local authority housing—and to limit the choice available to tenants.

I hope that the Government will indeed agree with the principle of wider choice and accept the new clause.

Mr. Galbraith

I am pleased to rise to support the new clause. I am sure that it comes as a surprise to many that an hon. Member representing a constituency such as mine should speak on local authority housing.

Mr. McAllion

It is lost on English Members.

Mr. Galbraith

It is indeed lost on some hon. Members with constituencies south of the border.

I should explain that my constituency has the highest number of owner-occupiers of any Scottish constituency or, indeed, of the top quarter of the United Kingdom. It is often described as "the leafy suburbs of Bearsden and Lennoxtown, nestling under the hills of the Campsie glens." What is not immediately apparent is that it contains some very serious housing problems.

The reason for that is that my constituency also contains Strathkelvin, and within that is a district that I share with my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke). As a direct consequence of the present Government's policy, housing has been poorly funded over the years, although there is an outstanding housing department and outstanding councillors and local officials are running a highly efficient and effective local authority housing service that responds to everyone's needs.

It is suspected that that under-funding is not unrelated to Scottish Homes, the SSHA tenants and their right to transfer back to local authority housing. As the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) said, to deprive them of that right is a basic negation of their democratic rights and freedom of choice. It is a disgraceful piece of legislation and, in time, it will come to be seen as that. There will be a demand that tenants should have the right to transfer back to a local authority. The Government are trying to run down the local authority stock so that the option will not be available to them. That is what is happening in my constituency.

I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West is in the Chamber. As I have said, he shares with me a district in the constituency of Strathkelvin. Strathkelvin wanted £15.5 million capital allocation, but it received only £5 million—one third of what it required. Can the Minister say why Strathkelvin received only £5 million this year?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

According to my list, Strathkelvin received £2,412,000 in the allocation yesterday.

Mr. Galbraith

Yes, and it is made up to £5 million by the money from council house sales.

I ask the Minister to go away and consider further the fact that Strathkelvin received only one third of what it required. That is not new. The Government have been running down the finance to Strathkelvin for some time. Housing support grant for 1980–81 was £2.2 million, and it has received nothing in the past four years. The rate fund contribution was £200,000—a cut of £2 million in three years. That is what is happening and it is related to Scottish Homes and SSHA tenants.

Within my constituency, 10 per cent. of the housing stock is lived in by SSHA tenants who will be transferred to Scottish Homes. None of those tenants have been consulted, but they are to be pushed over without any right to transfer back. They will be transferred into a quango. At present they have democratic rights under a first-rate district council and a first-rate housing committee. They will lose all those rights when they are transferred.

We should look at the quango to which they are being transferred. It has no members, but the Bill says that the Secretary of State shall satisfy himself, before he appoints a person to be a member, that that person will have no such financial or other interest as is likely to affect prejudicially the performance of his functions as a member". When the Minister replies, perhaps he will develop that further and say whether Scottish Homes will ever have members who were private landlords at any time. I would like the Minister to answer that specifically.

In relation to Scottish Homes and the loss of SSHA stock, my constituency is particularly concerned about homelessness. A total of 240 people are homeless in my constituency. That is an increase of 12 per cent. since 1985. The local authority has agency arrangements with the SSHA to help deal with that. Will the Minister tell me what will happen after the formation of Scottish Homes? Will the agency arrangements be maintained? Can he be specific about what will happen in my constituency?

As a result of this legislation, as the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said, some of my constituents will lose the choice and the ability to opt for a local authority landlord. Will the Minister accept the clause and give my constituents the choice of transferring into first-rate local authority housing, run democratically for the benefit of all people?

Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)

I am probably unique in the House because I happen to be an SSHA tenant and have been for the past 17 years. I have raised my family in an SSHA house and I am proud of the standard of the house in which I live, which was built specifically for the SSHA.

I should like to point out to the Minister that for five years I was the chairman of Linwood tenants association and we often went into battle with the SSHA about maintenance, repairs and incredibly high rents. Nevertheless, as a tenant I received an invitation to join in consultations about Scottish Homes. I received the letter in July and was told to have the letter back by August. Everyone is on holiday in Scotland in July. The Minister should have been aware of that, but he did not consider that when consulting the Scottish people on this important point about their homes.

I am delighted that the Government have the opportunity tonight hopefully to support the new clause. This is the first opportunity that the Government have given or could give to SSHA tenants. Rather than being represented by a quango or unelected body, SSHA tenants will have the opportunity to go to district councils and shelter under the umbrella of elected, responsible and democratic councillors who will take care of the issues that concern the tenants. This is a golden opportunity for the Government to support the new clause.

We are going to create Scottish Homes from the SSHA. The district council will become a wee fly stuck to the wall. I understand what the Government are really pushing for. They want private landlords. I can assure the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) that if the Government gave my constituents the opportunity to vote in a ballot, they would support going to two very respectable, decent local authorities—Renfrew district and Inverclyde. If the Government want to take up the challenge, they should, and my constituents will respond to it.

I represent the area with the largest number of SSHA tenants. Some of the largest meetings ever held in my constituency were about Scottish Homes. I can assure the House that my constituents are terrified at the thought of private landlords coming in. Some of the older tenants remember the heyday of the private landlords in Glasgow. Worse still, some of the young people are aware of the speculation that is taking place now by some private sector landlords.

Statements have appeared recently in the Glasgow Evening Times about one of those private landlords; I will not name him because proceedings are under way. If the Government support the new clause tonight, they will respond to the democratic wishes of my constituents. Clearly the 83,000 tenants would praise you, rather than castigate you. The consultation process was a disgrace. It did not afford the tenants in my area reasonable opportunity to discuss the Government's programme in full. However, I honestly believe that you are not interested, and that all you are interested in—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Not "you".

Mr. Graham

I apologise, Mr. Speaker. When I said "you", I meant the Government.

Clearly, the Government are more interested in dismantling and fragmenting local authority housing—and especially SSHA housing—into the private sector for pure political gain instead of considering the needs of Scottish housing in general. They are not concerned about damp houses or rebuilding for the homeless.

What will happen to the sensible arrangement operated between the SSHA and Renfrew district council whereby SSHA families are nominated for Renfrew district council houses and Renfrew council house tenants are nominated to become SSHA tenants? If that stops, we shall have the largest problem of homelessness this century. If the private landlords come in, our children will not be able to afford the exorbitant rents that are charged in London.

Mr. Welsh

I support the new clause. The Bill is supposed to be about freedom of choice, but it is about the very opposite. The Government stopped short when it came to the freedom of tenants to choose the public sector. In other words, the Government are saying that a person is free to choose his landlord as long as it is a private sector landlord. It is like saying that a person can have a car of any colour as long as it is black. That is not freedom of choice—

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Ordered, That, at this day's sitting the Housing (Scotland) Bill may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.—[Mr. Ryder.]

Question again proposed, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Welsh

The Government should follow through their own philosophy and give tenants real freedom of choice. The new clause starts to do that by giving SSHA tenants a real choice between the public or private sector. It is up to them to choose whether they prefer the public or private sector, but they should be given that opportunity SSHA tenants have been particularly well-organised and eloquent in putting forward their views on the Government's proposals, and they would be well equipped to make a rational and disciplined choice about their preferred type of tenure.

The problem with the Bill is that it is all one-way traffic—out of the public into the private sector. The Government are making a mistake in adopting such a lopsided approach to housing tenure. Tenants may only leave the public sector; they may not return to it or join it out of choice. There can be no real freedom of choice for such tenants until a genuine two-way traffic is allowed between the public and private sectors.

It may come as a surprise to Conservative Members that tenants may see the public sector as desirable. There has been a long and good working relationship between the SSHA and Angus district council, and many SSHA tenants believed that they were in Angus district council houses until, instead of having no rent increases like the tenants of Angus district council houses, they were faced with the shock of whopping increases within the SSHA system. Such tenants may find it desirable to go into an organised, prudent and progressive authority with a well-established housing department. There would be many advantages in making such a choice.

I shall support the new clause because it will give tenants choice. The Government are making a mistake in not following through the concept of freedom of choice, which is not what the Bill offers.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

I was pleased to hear my new neighbour, the hon. Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham), tonight. He will forgive me if I say he is not quite so attractive or elegant as my former neighbour and his predecessor. However, he is certainly making his mark in his constituency and, dare I say it, in my constituency as well.

I support new clauses 9, 18 and 19—

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)

My hon. Friend must make a choice. Who does he prefer—Anna McCurley or my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham)?

Hon. Members


Dr. Godman

I am trying to answer. That depends upon the criteria of selection. On some criteria my hon. Friend would win hands down, but not on others.

About 45 minutes ago I was informed by 10 Downing street that it is the Prime Minister's intention to visit Greenock tomorrow. In regard to new clause 9, I sincerely hope that the Prime Minister's visit to Greenock, or her stopover in Greenock, is not part of a whistle stop tour of Scotland. I believe that her tour is to include Erskine and Dundee. I have no doubt that the Prime Minister will bring some cheer to the people of my constituency with certain announcements that she will make, or announcements that she will hear tomorrow.

However, if the right hon. Lady were to meet the SSHA tenants and the district council tenant there would be no cheers for the right hon. Lady. If she were to speak to Helen Pyper and Donald MacDonald, the leading lights of the Inverclyde SSHA tenants association, they would not miss her and hit the wall with their views about the Bill. Along with many other SSHA tenants, they have expressed real fears and deep anxieties about the Bill. I believe that the Prime Minister would get a thorough dressing down about the Bill if she were to speak to my constituents who live in SSHA houses.

New clause 9 widens the choice for SSHA tenants in a way that would be perfectly reasonable even to Conservative Members. As the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) said, it provides a degree of freedom of choice which surely must be perfectly acceptable to all SSHA tenants irrespective of political perspective.

I believe that the legislation as amended by new clause 9 and new clauses 18 and 19 might diminish the deep anxieties of many SSHA tenants in my constituency and elsewhere in Scotland. The evidence which I have to present to the House is anecdotal. It is not based on some rigorous statistical analysis, but I can tell the Secretary of State— not that he will take any notice—that I have been assured by many SSHA tenants that they would prefer their homes to be transferred to the Inverclyde district council.

In response to the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) it is readily acknowledged by some Opposition Members that there are black spots in the history of the management of local housing. Many of those black spots were painted by central Government rather than local government, especially in terms of the architecture of housing and the council planning that went into the creation of many schemes in Scotland and elsewhere.

My hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde was close to the heart of the matter when he said that Inverclyde district council is a reasonable manager of public housing in Greenock and Port Glasgow, and in Kilmacoln, Wemyss Bay and elsewhere in my hon. Friend's constituency. He was also right to speak about the fears of SSHA tenants about the Bill, especially about the formidable prospect of becoming private tenants. All the SSHA tenants with whom I have spoken—I have two more meetings later this week with SSHA tenants associations—have said that they never want to become private tenants.

The legislation, as amended by this clause and by new clauses 18 and 19, would help to meet some of the anxieties of those fine, decent and honourable people. That is what they are. They should be treated in a fine, decent and honourable way by this Government, but that is wishing for the moon. This Government, especially as represented by the present incumbents of the Scottish Office, give not a damn for the interests of ordinary people.

The leader of this Government is to visit Greenock tomorrow. For many of my constituents she must surely be, because of this legislation, the social fund and the other changes that are being made to the social security legislation, the most hated, feared and reviled Prime Minister of the 20th century.

Mr. Douglas

I support new clause 9. I shall also refer to new clauses 18 and 19. I ask the Secretary of State to reflect on his proposals. Sometimes he rightly castigates hon. Members for adopting frozen attitudes. All hon. Members have some frozen attitudes; sometimes they are frozen in the 1960s and sometimes they are frozen in the 1970s. We have to consider the challenges to Scotland and to Scottish housing towards the year 2000. I do not know what will happen in the medium term, but it is unlikely that major changes will be made to this legislation. An incoming Labour Government or a Scottish Assembly would want to alter it, but what will not alter dramatically is the pattern of our communities.

The Secretary of State proposes to allow communities, both large and small, such as Valleyfield, Oakleigh and Blairhall in my constituency, where there is a mixture of local authority, private and SSHA housing, to have a choice. The Secretary of State says that the SSHA houses are to go into Scottish Homes and that local authority houses can also go into Scottish Homes but that houses cannot come out of Scottish Homes. Whose attitude is frozen? The Secretary of State accuses the Opposition of having frozen attitudes, but his attitude is frozen because of his Government's and his personal repugnance of local authority housing ownership and local authority housing stock. That is not a fair assessment of people's needs.

The Secretary of State argues for a mix of ownership, which I support. There is a remarkable mixture of ownership in Dunfermline; a larger proportion of local authority and SSHA houses than in any other constituency have gone from the public into the private domain. If Scottish Homes is to be created, the Secretary of State should provide flexibility so that tenants are able to choose whether to live in Scottish Homes houses or whether it would be practicable and enhance a sense of community for them to move from Scottish Homes into the local authority sector.

The other new clauses also refer to the democratic element of choice. There is an implication in the new clauses that these things should not be done unless the tenants' consent is absolutely clear and I think that is fair. I know the difficulties of drafting, and the Secretary of State and those in his Department, with their legal minds, might say that the drafting is wrong, but I would ask him to accept that the intention behind the new clauses is to give some sense that these deals will not be imposed on the tenants.

I repeat what I said on Second Reading and referred to earlier in the debate. I have in my constituency a small village with a very deep sense of community. Some of the houses are owned by the MOD and some by the SSHA. Perhaps I am wrong in not trying to devise a new clause to cover the situation because there is nothing in the Bill, but it would have been very difficult to do it and highly unlikely that it would have been accepted. Here is a community where it would have been possible, with both housing sectors in the public domain, to allow the MOD houses to be transferred with the SSHA houses to Scottish Homes to keep the sense of community, but that, for doctrinal reasons, or perhaps Treasury reasons, is not being done.

If the Secretary of State points the finger at the Opposition Benches and talks about frozen attitudes, should he not consider whether he is also guilty of being frozen in his attitude by a doctrinal abhorrence of local authority housing? I ask him to act in the interest of what is good for Scottish housing and of keeping the sense of community not just for the 1980s but into the year 2000.

10.15 pm
Mr. Millan

The reason why SSHA tenants are so suspicious about, and indeed hostile to, this legislation is that it was clear that the Goverment's original intention was to hive off houses from the SSHA, presumably to the private sector. The Government have been moved from that position because of the hostile reaction of the SSHA tenants and are now saying that those tenants do not have to worry, because nothing is going to happen without their consent.

That assurance is all right as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough. I want to ask the Minister how far that assurance goes and how long it lasts, because unless new clause 9 is inserted into the Bill the Opposition will take the view that the assurance will be very short-lived and that the Government will revert as soon as they possibly can to their original intention of hiving off these houses to the private sector. That would be wholly undemocratic and certainly against the wishes of the tenants.

Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)

I rise to lend my support, like my hon. Friends, to new clause 9, but first I must say that, like my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman), I was informed this evening that the Prime Minister would be visiting my constituency. This may come as something of a surprise to Dundonians, who in the past nine years have never been graced by the presence of the Prime Minister. For her to choose this week of all weeks to visit Dundee does not bode well for the city.

Mr. Home Robertson

Well, what did it do to Churchill?

Mr. McAllion

Churchill was a Liberal in those days.

I would expect that the Prime Minister would bring some good news to Dundee in terms of jobs for certain groups of us, anyway. I hope very much that jobs will be announced in Dundee tomorrow. But it is a matter of some concern to hon. Members that the press in Dundee should have been informed five or six hours before the Member of Parliament for Dundee was informed. That, of course, is par for the course for the present Prime Minister, who treats hon. Members with utter contempt, no matter on which side of the House they sit.

Dr. Godman

My experience is exactly the same as my hon. Friend's. I might say, however, that the Prime Minister declined my invitation to visit Port Glasgow. She is visiting Greenock, not Port Glasgow, and that for me is a matter of deep regret.

Mr. McAllion

I can understand why the Prime Minister picks the places she visits in Scotland carefully; she would not receive a welcoming reception anywhere.

New clause 9 deals with extensions of tenants' rights, and I should have thought that all hon. Members would support it for that reason. The Government have long argued that they are in favour of widening choice for everyone in Britain and for tenants in particular. An important element of choice must be the ability to decide who one's landlord should be. The Government have recognised that in other parts of the Bill, with the new pick-a-landlord scheme; if people happen to be Scottish Homes tenants or district council tenants, they have that right. The Minister must tell us why SSHA tenants are not being given the same right in the Bill.

It is almost feudal to transfer property from the SSHA to Scottish Homes, given that that involves transferring families who happen to be living in the properties, without giving them any say in the matter. That is to treat them like medieval serfs or chattels, and that is what the Government are doing by failing to support the new clause.

I want to take up the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Millan). The new Scottish Homes will be an uncertain type of landlord for the tenants transferred into its ownership. It will have a huge budget at its disposal for spending on housing, but we know from Committee that the Minister has been careful not to give it any sort of housing responsibility. Dampness, condensation, overcrowding and homelessness will not be the responsibility of Scottish Homes; that will remain with the district councils. Scottish Homes will spend its huge budget only on joint projects with the private sector on the sort of schemes that involve two or three pounds of private sector money for every one pound of public sector money. So it will not spend the money looking after its new tenants.

The tenants of Scottish Homes must wonder what the priorities of the new agency will he. They will certainly not be the tenants who come under its control. Bearing in mind the consultation document, we remember that this is only to be a transitional stage and that Scottish Homes will quickly dispose of the 83,000 tenants to some other form of tenure. That remains the secret, hidden agenda of Scottish Homes, even though the Government have been forced to back down on it. The people who run Scottish Homes will get rid of those tenants as a priority—some of them into the private sector—and it is that which gives rise to our fears.

Tenants earnestly desire the right to choose district councils as their landlords. The Minister came to Whitfield and met Mrs. Sandra Thomson, a leading activist there who has done a tremendous amount of work to organise tenants over the past few years. She has written a paper on the new Housing (Scotland) Bill, setting out her thoughts about it. In one part of the paper she speaks about the role of tenants' organisations and how they have been ignored by the Government: It appears that in the new Bill, no provision or thought has been given to Tenants Organisations already established within communities, or new ones wishing to set up into groups. Most organisations depend on local authorities to allocate a house to use as a meeting place and organise activities for children and adults. Primarily, they are set up to help upgrade their areas, but mainly to help alleviate feelings of depression and isolation, especially in areas of multiple deprivation. Most tenants from all walks of life, have had no say nor has there been any consultation with them concerning the Bill. If the Private Sector take over streets, this will leave tenants' groups with nothing, they will disintegrate to such an extent, that there will be no more community spirit left. The time it has taken to become involved will have all been wasted. If the private sector do allow groups to stay, they would be unable to meet the cost of keeping their lounges open, because landlords will not give the same grant aid that local authorities do. If they are allowed to remain open, they would he accountable every move made, this has very significant implications, thus reduce the rights of the tenants. That is the legitimate and genuine voice of tenants who are concerned that the measures in the Bill will drive them out of the public sector and away from local authorities. They make provision for their tenants and give them the right to come together and make demands on the landlord for the provision that they want. But a landlord's charter is included in the Bill, which will drive tenants into the private sector and denude them of their rights. The Minister should really be supporting new clause 9 to let the tenants decide what they want, rather than have the Government decide for them.

Mr. Dalyell

May we clarify the position? We must go back to the question that was asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Milian). Let me put it specifically in another form. Much of the trouble in West Lothian stems from the fact that some senior housing councillors went to a conference and returned to tell us that Derek Mason had made it very clear that within two or three years many of the SSHA houses would he disposed of to the private sector.

My questions are simply, first, whether Derek Mason said that—to my satisfaction he undoubtedly did—and secondly, was he speaking with the authority of Ministers? Is that the intention of SSHA as it is now, Scottish Homes as it will be in the 1990s?

Mr. McFall

The Bill integrates the SSHA into the new agency called Scottish Homes. Commentators in Scotland have not seen any intrinsic merit in that proposal. Nothing that the Government have said has given us any sign that the scheme has any merit. I contend that the future policy should be dealt with separately, in conjunction with tenants, staff and the management of the SSHA.

I am at a loss to understand the housing policy that is behind the Government's creation of this super-quango. The Government talk about housing associations leading the way, but they account for only 2 per cent. of the housing stock in Scotland. In no way can one see them leading a major revival in the public sector. In fact, evidence from a study in England and Wales by the Priority Estates Project seems to contradict the appropriateness of divorcing the management of homes from the range of other local authority services. Certainly the tenants are against it.

A democratic case has been put time and again. The tenants whom I have met in my constituency have said to me that if one member, one vote is good enough for trade unions, as the Government say, it is good enough for tenants when deciding which landlord they want.

The Scottish Homes scheme has no proposals for decentralisation. There are no guarantees for tenants' representation on the board. As my hon. Friends have said, it is up to the Secretary of State alone to decide the composition of the SSHA board. The Government's solution to the problem of the peripheral estates is contrary to the years of evidence that have been built up in Scotland, as indeed is the case in England and Wales in relation to the Priority Estates Project.

We are putting the case to the Government tonight through tenants' eyes. That viewpoint has been missing from the Government's approach time and again. We on this side of the House have spoken to tenants in their hundreds and thousands and gone to meetings. This is the message that tenants give us. We are not making up a story. We are putting over the tenants' case and their fears. Tenants tell me and my hon. Friends that deregulation in the housing market will not create a new and stable investment for them in the private rented sector.

Elderly tenants in my constituency have told me that the private sector in Dumbarton 50 years ago meant that two thirds of the population of the town lived in two or three narrow streets. The average number of people in homes in the town—room and kitchens, as they were called—was six, seven or eight. The infant mortality rate was 15 to 20 times what it is today. That was when the private sector reigned supreme in Dumbarton, and that is why we speak against the Government's reintroduction of the private sector without any consideration whatever for tenants.

Time and again the Government tell us that the Bill is about consumer choice. The message that I have for the Government is that they are knocking consumer confidence on the head and consumers have no faith in the Government. They say that the Government are introducing this legislation for the sake of short-term speculation and that it will result in high-cost, low-quality housing.

10.30 pm
Mr. Paul Marland (Gloucestershire, West)

What about jobs?

Mr. McFall

What about jobs? This debate is about Scottish housing and we do not need an ignorant comment from an hon. Gentleman who came in a few seconds ago. His comments have got nothing to do with the general debate.

Scottish Homes has no statutory duty to house the homeless, and homelessness in Scotland is a blot on the Scottish landscape. My constituents say to me that private finance can be attracted only on the basis of profit. For every pound that goes into the landlord's pocket, they say that there will be a pound less for repairs, for modernisation and for the provision of new housing stock.

The Government talk about meeting the housing needs through a variety of rent regimes. In uncoded language, that means rent increases. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Millan) said, no assurances are offered to tenants by the Government. Is the assurance for SSHA tenants the same as the assurance for people in assured tenancies? The Government say that the minimum period for assured tenancies is six months. That is the case the first time round, but thereafter they can be for two or three months. That means that under the legislation a person in an assured tenancy for 10 years may have no more than two or three months' notice to get out. Will that help tenants and stabilise housing in Scotland?

Opposition to the Government is widespread, and the Government have heard it not only from us but from tenants all over Scotland. The strength of dissatisfaction among local authority and SSHA tenants has been made known. I shall put my interpretation on what the Government are doing. They are paying no regard to Scottish housing, to Scotland or to the future need of the nation. In one fell swoop the Government are dismantling communities. That is at the core of this legislation and that is why it should be wholeheartedly opposed.

Mr. Canavan

I am rather bemused by all the talk by hon. Members about prime ministerial visits to constituencies. I have not been informed about any intended visit to my constituency, although perhaps the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State are keeping it a big secret. In the Prime Minister's interests a visit to my constituency would have to be very secretive. She would be assured of a very hot reception.

Mr. Bill Walker

One of the most disturbing things that I have heard in the debate was the announcement about what the Prime Minister is doing tomorrow. Do the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends not realise that one of the reasons for such information being kept a tight secret is the danger that its publication would impose on the Prime Minister and anyone else who happens to be in the vicinity?

Mr. Canavan

If what the hon. Gentleman says is true, it is a sad reflection on the type of society that the Prime Minister has helped to create in Britain. If Ministers, including the Prime Minister, cannot go on to the streets of this country in relative safety, they must take some of the responsibility for the hellish society that they have created.

When I say that the Prime Minister would be assured of a hot reception if she ever set foot in my constituency, I do not mean that in an intimidating and physical sense. I simply mean that her policies on housing and everything else are utterly despised by the vast majority of my constituents because she has foisted them on people against their wishes and with no mandate from the people of Scotland.

Mr. Graham

I have tonight received a letter informing me, as a matter of courtesy, that the Prime Minister will undertake an engagement in my constituency tomorrow. I was told by the local newspapers over a week ago that the Prime Minister was coming to my constituency and would be visiting Erskine, Port Glasgow and Greenock. I find it strange that I am told this tonight. The hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) mentioned security reasons, but why tell other people and not me, as I was elected to represent my constituents?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I cannot find anything in the new clauses about the Prime Minister's visits to anywhere. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will now address himself to the new clauses.

Mr. Canavan

If or when the Prime Minister comes to my constituency, perhaps she could visit some Scottish Special Housing Association tenants who are affected by the Bill.

New clauses 9, 18 and 19 refer to SSHA tenants. I am informed by the association that, in my constituency, there are 217 such tenants in Camelon, 258 in Hall Glen, 539 in Denny and 85 in Stenhousemuir, giving a total of 1,099. When the Government published their consultation document prior to the publication of the White Paper and the Bill, I could not find an SSHA tenant in my constituency who was in favour of the proposals in the consultative paper. I could not find an SSHA tenant in my constituency who was in favour of the proposals in the White Paper. I still cannot find an SSHA tenant in my constituency who is in favour of the proposals in the Bill.

I have never maintained, and I do not think that any SSHA tenant would maintain, that the association is perfect. I and other Opposition Members have been critical of some aspects of the SSHA. The fact that it is an unelected quango means that there is less accountability to the people and particularly to tenants than there is in council schemes. For example, if council tenants have a complaint about housing policy in general or about how it applies to their housing association, they can go along to their local councillor and he can take the matter up with his colleagues, the other elected members of the council.

Some of us have argued a very strong case for tranferring all SSHA stock to local authorities. I am not for disbanding the SSHA completely. The SSHA, or Scottish Homes as it will become, should have a continuing role in building houses in areas of high growth or high need where the local authority cannot be expected to have the necessary resources to cope.

The Bill will make the SSHA's position worse instead of better. The SSHA is the second biggest landlord in Scotland, with Glasgow district council having a slightly larger housing stock. Scottish Homes will become the biggest landlord in Scotland. One quango will have been taken over by an even bigger quango. Again, there will be a lack of accountability to members, with a subsequent lack of accountability to tenants. It boils down to a lack of democracy. Basically, the patronage of the Secretary of State will decide the policy of Scottish Homes and those who will implement it.

When the consultative document was issued last year, there was almost 100 per cent. opposition to the proposals affecting SSHA tenants. I do not speak just on behalf of the SSHA tenants in my constituency. I have received letters from many housing associations all over Scotland which were trying to make a co-ordinated national effort to oppose the Bill. My correspondence and meetings led me to believe that there was almost 100 per cent. opposition by all SSHA tenants to the proposals, yet the Government have been determined to go ahead.

In Committee the Minister dealt with a matter on which he could perhaps now enlighten the House. A big meeting was held in a Glasgow hotel attended by delegates of many tenants' associations representing SSHA tenants throughout Scotland, including a delegation from the Ochiltree tenants association in my constituency. I had previously met those tenants, who were angry about the Minister's proposals. They came away from the meeting with some hope because they found that not only they but virtually everyone at the meeting opposed the Government's proposals, with the exception of the Minister. Perhaps the Under-Secretary could tell us what transpired at that meeting and whether he or his officials could give any assurances to the people who had travelled to it from all over Scotland. I believe from my correspondence and the representations made to us that there is still great dissatisfaction. That is why we have tabled the new clauses.

10.45 pm

New clause 9 gives SSHA tenants the right to have the ownership of their home transferred to the district or islands council in whose area it stands or to any approved landlord. We simply ask the Government to give tenants the right to choose. The Government claim to be great supporters of the individual's rights and freedoms, of tenants' rights and so on. Indeed, in the original consultation document, they seemed to be saying that what they are about is extending choice between and within the public and private sectors. But if the Government oppose the excellent new clause, as I suspect they will, they will be arguing against an extension of choice. All that we ask is that an SSHA tenant who wants to become a council tenant should have the right to do so.

The Minister and his buddies on the Front Bench are always praising the private landlord, who they say will come to the rescue and help to solve Scotland's housing crisis. According to the Government, large numbers of potential Tory landlords are skulking away, waiting for the Bill to reach the statute book, at which time they will come out of their hidey-holes and start to build houses and take them over to let to the homeless. That is codswallop. Anyone who has read the history of private landlords in Scotland will know that it is nothing to be proud of; as my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) said, it is an absolute disgrace. We certainly do not want to turn the clock back to the exploitation of tenants, rotten housing conditions, high rents and evictions.

Having said that, I concede that there may be one or two decent, law-abiding, humane, good private landlords, or potential private landlords, around. If there are, and if an SSHA tenant wants to put his or her trust in such a private landlord, so be it. If the private landlord is approved — I understand that the definition of "approved" appears elsewhere in the Bill — the SSHA tenant has the right under the new clause to opt for the ownership of the house, and for his or her rights of tenancy to be transferred from Scottish Homes to that private landlord.

I should have thought that any reasonable Government and any reasonable Minister would realise that there is a straightforward tenants' rights argument at stake. I remember a previous piece of legislation that the Government had the audacity to call the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) (Amendment) Act, so they are at least paying lip service to tenants' rights. If they genuinely believe in the rights of the individual tenant, let them support new clause 9.

In making absurd claims that there is no demand for genuine political devolution in Scotland, the Government sometimes say, "But we are a Government of devolvers, because we devolve power from the state and from big organisations to individuals." If they really believe that absurd claim, let them act on it. A typical example of that concept of devolution would be to take power away from a big bureaucracy, such as Scottish Homes will become.

If the tenant wanted the ownership to be transferred to a local authority of more manageable size and with more local democratic accountability, the tenant would have that right. Similarly, in the event—in my constituency, it would be an unlikely event—of people wanting their house to be transferred to a private landlord, then, provided that that private landlord is approved under the Bill, the tenant would have that right. Therefore, if, as the Government claim, they are a Government of genuine devolution, they should support new clause 9.

New clauses 18 and 19 were tabled by me and my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas), who also has a considerable number of SSHA tenants in his constituency. As I said, I have more than 1,000 such tenants. I do not think that he has as many, but we will not quibble about that. The fact is that every SSHA tenant has certain fears about the Bill.

When the consultation was complete, the Government produced a White Paper, which was the precursor to the Bill, the relevant section of which is headed "Tenants' rights". Paragraph 2.6 states: The position of tenants is the other aspect of the absorption of the SSHA within Scottish Homes which has caused concern. It is an understatement to say that it has caused concern—I would say that it has caused fear and alarm.

The White Paper then states: There has been considerable misrepresentation of the Government's proposals in this respect". I should be grateful if the Minister would enlighten us about that alleged misrepresentation of the Government's proposals because the White Paper refers to unnecessary anxiety among SSHA tenants". There is certainly anxiety among SSHA tenants, but I would not have the complacency to describe that anxiety as unnecessary. I await the Minister's reassurances on that point.

The White Paper also states: Scottish Homes will continue the existing role of the SSHA as a model landlord in relation to its own stock". I do not know what the Minister means by a "model landlord" because, despite the good work that the SSHA has done since its inception over a century ago, very few SSHA tenants would say that it is a "model landlord" in every respect. There are genuine grievances against the SSHA as a landlord and fears that under the Bill tenants will become worse off rather than better off.

The kernel of my argument in favour of new clauses 18 and 19 is that in paragraph 2.8 of the White Paper, the Government state: Tenants will continue to enjoy the same rights with Scottish Homes as their landlord as they would have possessed as tenants of the SSHA". If that is true, and if the Minister is absolutely confident of its truth, he should not speak against new clause 18. All that the new clause does is enshrine in statute what the White Paper states in paragraph 2.8.

I have looked through the Bill—

Mr Galloway

Is my hon. Friend aware of just how intensely the hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) is listening to his speech, and how interested she is?

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

I have heard every word of it, and I am bored stiff.

Mr. Canavan

I am very sorry for the hon. Lady, but she has my permission to go home to bed if she wishes. If she would like to intervene, I shall gladly give way, but if she continues to make rude seated interventions during this important debate—

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

I did not raise the point; it was the facetious hon. Member opposite.

Hon. Members

Which one?

Mr. Canavan

I do not think that the hon. Lady is referring to me, so I shall ignore her remarks.

Now I have lost my train of thought—because of the Lancastrian interventions. I do not want to be sidetracked.

I remember now. I was saying to the Minister that if the commitment in the White Paper is genuine, he should support new clause 18. I cannot claim, like the Minister, to be legally trained—although, to be honest, that lack of training is sometimes an advantage rather than a disadvantage—but I have looked through the Bill, and cannot find in any of its clauses a categorical statement that SSHA tenants will not suffer from a deprivation or diminution of their rights. If I am wrong, I shall gladly withdraw what I have said; I stand to be corrected by the Minister. But my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West and I tabled the new clause because of the fears of our constituents, which are shared by the constituents of many other hon. Members.

I do not think that the SSHA has any houses in Lancaster, but it certainly has houses in many Scottish constituencies, and new clause 18 would help to alleviate many of the present anxieties.

Under new clause 18, the tenant would have to agree to any change in conditions of tenancy. In the event of a disagreement about those conditions, or about security of tenure—and I suggest that rent levels be included as well—the tenant would have the right to appeal to the appropriate rent officer, or to the rent assessment committee.

At present, some SSHA tenants would argue that their rents are a bit too high. What I suppose was one of the SSHA's last circulars before it is wound up under the legislation was put out to tenants in my area — and presumably throughout Scotland — saying that rents would be increased by up to £150 a year. Under new clause 18, the SSHA or its successor organisation, Scottish Homes, would not be able to do that unilaterally. It would have to come up with proposals for rent increases and, if an individual tenant or group of tenants disagreed and thought that they had a fair case about a proposed rent increase or any other change in the tenancy agreement, they would have the right of appeal to the appropriate rent officer or the rent assessment committee. Perhaps the Minister could advise us what he thinks would be the best procedure—whether it should be an individual decision by the rent officer or a collective decision by the rent assessment committee.

11 pm

New clause 19 also stands in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West. It refers to transfers to a private landlord or landlords of ownership of any house owned or administered by Scottish Homes. We are saying that the transfer of ownership to a private landlord should not take place unless written consent has been obtained from the tenant of the house in question. I have confined the drafting of the new clause to cases where, at the time of the establishment of Scottish Homes, the person or persons were SSHA tenants. In other words, it would not apply to future tenancies but would apply only to tenancies in existence prior to the setting up of Scottish Homes. I should have thought that that would narrow the scope a little and make it easier for the Government to accept the new clause.

It comes down to the basic question of tenants' choice and tenants' rights. The Government claim that they are in favour of the rights of individual tenants, so surely it is not asking too much that the consent of the tenant ought to be obtained before the ownership of his or her house is transferred.

I tabled another new clause about having a ballot of all SSHA tenants, but that was not called, so I do not want to dwell on it. I believe that the matter was raised in Committee and was adequately dealt with then. I certainly do not want to go over ground that was raised in Committee.

The effect of new clause 19 is that, rather than the decision being made collectively by means of a ballot, it would, in the spirit of the concept of devolution proposed by the Government, devolve the decision to the individual tenant. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will give it sympathetic consideration.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I am glad to respond. Like the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) I too represent SSHA tenants and am glad to have the opportunity to do so. I am well aware of their views. The hon. Gentleman is correct in saying that we do not want to turn the clock back. In fact, we want to turn the clock forward.

The hon. Member for Falkirk, West asked how rents will be set for SSHA tenants. They will be set on the same basis as at present and the rent assessment committee does not and will not play any part. They will be secured tenants as tenants of Scottish Homes.

The hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith) asked whether agency arrangements would transfer. The answer is that all contractual agreements and formal liabilities that the SSHA has with local authorities or anybody else will transfer to Scottish Homes under the terms of clause 3 The hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) asked about Shetland tenants and the extent of consultation. Tenants have been fully consulted in the Shetlands and it is in the light of their response that the SSHA has decided not to cease being their landlord. The SSHA held public meetings to which tenants were free to come and offered to visit tenants individually in their homes. The fact that it was unable to make contact with some tenants cannot reasonably be held to be a criticism of its attempts at consultation. I should make it quite dear that the SSHA is not withdrawing from Shetland as a landlord.

The essence of new clause 9 is the Opposition's belief that local authorities should be encouraged to grow ever larger as landlords. That is in spite of the fact that they already own more than two out of every three rented houses in Scotland. It also ignores the fact that in some local authorities the council owns almost eight out of every 10 houses. Allowing for the fact that the other two houses include those which are owner-occupied, the local authority is virtually the only landlord available to anyone wishing to rent in those areas. However, the Opposition's response to that horrifying lack of choice and opportunity is to seek ways of making local authorities even greater monopoly landlords than they are now.

There is no point in the Opposition including a reference in this new clause to other types of landlord. That is a smokescreen. The tenants of Scottish Homes will have the rights available under tenants' choice provision as the Bill stands without any need for the relevant part of the new clause. It is well known that we are not opposed to Scottish Homes tenants having the choice of moving to another landlord. One of Scottish Homes' main tasks will be to offer its own tenants wider choice in relation to the way in which their houses are managed and by whom. We have always made that clear. I am glad that the Opposition now share our view that Scottish Homes tenants should be offered the option of transferring to approved landlords.

Mr. Wallace

The Minister has seen the response of the SSHA tenants in Shetland; 70 per cent. of those who responded wanted to be transferred to the local authority. Why should they be denied that choice?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

The possibility of the transfer of the houses to Shetland islands council was suggested as a fallback for those SSHA tenants who under the original proposals were not willing to transfer to the local housing association. The transfer of those tenants' houses to the council would still have allowed the SSHA to withdraw completely from the Shetlands. I want to make it clear that there is no question of the SSHA withdrawing from the Shetlands in the present circumstances. Therefore, the situation described by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) does not arise.

Mr. Wallace

I have listened to the Minister refer to a letter sent to Shetland islands council. Will he answer this simple point? The tenants were asked which option they wanted to exercise and 70 per cent. said that they wished to become council tenants. Why are the Government denying them the right to exercise that choice?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

Quite simply, because the SSHA is not withdrawing from the Shetlands. That situation would have arisen if the SSHA had withdrawn from the Shetlands. However, as I have made absolutely clear to the hon. Member for Orkney, and Shetland, the SSHA is not withdrawing—

Mr. Wallace


Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman. I am aware of his views. The SSHA is not withdrawing.

Mr. Wallace

If the Bill becomes an Act and Scottish Homes is created, the SSHA will no longer exist. Why at that point should 70 per cent. of SSHA tenants who replied that they wanted to become SIC tenants, not be allowed to do so?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

The only difference is that Scottish Homes will take over all the rights and obligations. The tenants will have the same rights of tenure, the same people will be looking after their houses and they will have the same way of setting their rents. There is no reason for them to withdraw in those circumstances because the SSHA—like its successor, Scottish Homes—is not withdrawing from the scene.

Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North)


Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

The Opposition seek to dress up their opposition to choice as it that was their own idea. The hon. Member for East Lothian made a speech recently at a housing conference, in which he said that the Opposition's alternative to the Government's policy would be to encourage co-operatives and housing associations. I find that a wonderfully novel twist, as those are the Government's policies. The Opposition are exchanging bankruptcy for theft.

The Opposition would have us believe that there can be no happier state imaginable than to be a local authority tenant and that local authorities cannot possibly dominate the lives of too many people. We suggest that the evidence is somewhat different. Alongside the well-built, well-maintained and well-managed houses which show the best of what local authorities can achieve, there are large numbers of rundown and poorly managed houses, in which tenants are subjected to an impoverished quality of life which is a travesty of the standards which public services should represent. Some local authorities are too large and remote and some of them have been regrettably complacent about their tenants, secure in the knowledge that those tenants have no other practical alternative to renting from them as things stand.

Mr. Wilson

Notwithstanding the flood of subjective opinions which the Minister offers about local authorities, and bearing in mind that he answered the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) purely in terms of the specific Shetland situation, does he accept that there is an absolute contradiction between the use of the words "freedom of choice", a principle that I can go a long way towards agreeing with, and the refusal of freedom of choice to anyone who dares to offend the Government by wanting to choose a local authority?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

There is certainly an extension of choice and opportunity for tenants throughout Scotland. My view of local authorities is shared by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) who, writing in The Guardian last Wednesday, said: In the field of public services, particularly those provided by local authorities, the evidence does not suggest that efficiency ranks high in their reputation. Nothing in the Bill prevents Scottish Homes from disposing of its houses to a local authority, with the consent of the Secretary of State for Scotland, if that makes sense in a particular set of local circumstances. It certainly does not in the case of the Shetlands, for the reasons that I have given.

Let me deal now with new clauses 18 and 19. I continue to be amazed at the capacity of Opposition Members to ignore the facts about SSHA tenants and Scottish Homes. Clause 3(2) preserves the position of SSHA tenants as secure tenants, with all the attendant rights, once they become tenants of Scottish Homes. We made our intentions absolutely clear even before the Bill was published. New clause 18 is therefore entirely unnecessary.

The Government gave public sector tenants rights, against deep opposition from the Labour party, including the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan), in the Tenants' Rights Etc. (Scotland) Act 1980. Those rights included the right to buy, which over 107,000 tenants have now done, and also a wider range of other rights, including security of tenure, the right to a written lease and the right of succession. Those rights, so widely welcomed, will not be taken away by the Bill. The Bill adds to them. When SSHA tenants become tenants of Scottish Homes, they will be secure tenants.

We have discussed a new clause to ease restriction on the discount applying in the right to buy. The Bill gives public sector tenants the right to invite another landlord to take over their houses.

Mr. Canavan

The Minister said that new clause 18 was unnecessary, and I think that he is implying that new clause 19 is also unnecessary. But would he care to tell us which part of the Bill, or any legislation on the statute book, says precisely what new clause 18 says or gives tenants security of rights equivalent to those proposed in new clause 18? Can he give us chapter and verse?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

It is absolutely clear that there will be no compulsion against any SSHA tenants. No solution will be forced on anyone against his or her will. There is not a word of compulsion for public sector tenants. For SSHA tenants who are satisfied with the management arrangements for their homes, little will change on the advent of Scottish Homes. The same staff and offices will be there to deal with them, and Scottish Homes will maintain the same high standards of management.

Mr. McAllion

The Minister mentioned three or four different rights which he claimed the Government had given tenants under the provisions of the Bill. Why, if a tenant uses the pick-a-landlord scheme to move into an assured tenancy, will each of those rights be taken away by the Government?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

The hon. Gentleman is quite inaccurate. Under various Acts of Parliament, there are grounds for the eviction of council house tenants, just as there are for anyone else. The grounds may be slightly different, but the hon. Gentleman is quite incorrect.

The new organisation will of course develop a variety of alternative management arrangements for the houses it owns. These will be offered to tenants to take up if they wish, and tenants' views will be fully respected. New clause 19 is therefore entirely unnecessary. Clause 2(3)(b) of the Bill already prevents Scottish Homes from disposing of houses except in accordance with arrangements made by the Secetary of State. I must therefore ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw new clause 19 or I shall advise my hon. Friends to vote against it.

11.15 pm
Mr. Home Robertson

The Minister was not terribly convincing. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) said, the Government may claim credit for creating certain rights for tenants, but the Bill takes away those rights. There is no way in which the Minister can wriggle out of that aspect of the Bill.

The only choice that will be available to people moving out of Scottish Homes tenure will be to move into any tenure other than local authority tenure. It has been made abundantly clear that a substantial number—probably the majority—of SSHA tenants, given the option, would prefer to transfer to the local authority. Who would be surprised at that? The hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) said that even if they want to, they should not be allowed to do so.

We have smoked out what the Government and the Tory party mean when they talk about tenants' choice. They are prepared to let tenants choose, so long as the tenants exercise the choice that the Government want them to make. If tenants have the temerity to want to transfer into local authority tenure, the Government will prevent them from doing so.

The Minister has pleaded guilty to that charge. Opposition Members want to establish genuine choice for tenants. We recognise the demands of SSHA tenants to be able to transfer to the local authority, but we would not stand in their way if they wanted to transfer to another sector. We believe in genuine choice. New clause 9 provides for that, and I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to support it.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 189, Noes 252.

Division No. 239] [11.18 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Henderson, Doug
Allen, Graham Hinchliffe, David
Alton, David Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Holland, Stuart
Armstrong, Hilary Home Robertson, John
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Hood, Jimmy
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Barron, Kevin Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Battle, John Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Bermingham, Gerald Illsley, Eric
Bray, Dr Jeremy Ingram, Adam
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Janner, Greville
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) John, Brynmor
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Buchan, Norman Kennedy, Charles
Buckley, George J. Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Callaghan, Jim Kirkwood, Archy
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Lamond, James
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Leadbitter, Ted
Canavan, Dennis Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Lewis, Terry
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Litherland, Robert
Clay, Bob Livingstone, Ken
Clelland, David Livsey, Richard
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Cohen, Harry Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Coleman, Donald Loyden, Eddie
Cook, Robin (Livingston) McAllion, John
Corbett, Robin McAvoy, Thomas
Corbyn, Jeremy Macdonald, Calum A.
Cousins, Jim McFall, John
Cox, Tom McLeish, Henry
Crowther, Stan McNamara, Kevin
Cryer, Bob McTaggart, Bob
Cummings, John McWilliam, John
Cunliffe, Lawrence Madden, Max
Dalyell, Tam Marek, Dr John
Darling, Alistair Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'I) Maxton, John
Dewar, Donald Meacher, Michael
Dixon, Don Meale, Alan
Dobson, Frank Michael, Alun
Doran, Frank Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Douglas, Dick Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Duffy, A. E. P. Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Dunnachie, Jimmy Mitchell, Austin (G'f Grimsby)
Eadie, Alexander Moonie, Dr Lewis
Eastham, Ken Morgan, Rhodri
Evans, John (St Helens N) Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) Mullin, Chris
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray) Murphy, Paul
Faulds, Andrew Nellist, Dave
Fearn, Ronald Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) O'Brien, William
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n) O'Neill, Martin
Fisher, Mark Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Flannery, Martin Patchett, Terry
Flynn, Paul Pike, Peter L.
Foster, Derek Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Foulkes, George Prescott, John
Fraser, John Primarolo, Dawn
Galbraith, Sam Quin, Ms Joyce
Galloway, George Radice, Giles
George, Bruce Randall, Stuart
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Redmond, Martin
Godman, Dr Norman A. Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Golding, Mrs Llin Richardson, Jo
Gordon, Mildred Robertson, George
Graham, Thomas Robinson, Geoffrey
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Rogers, Allan
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Rooker, Jeff
Hardy, Peter Rowlands, Ted
Harman, Ms Harriet Ruddock, Joan
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Salmond, Alex
Heffer, Eric S. Sedgemore, Brian
Sheerman, Barry Wallace, James
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Walley, Joan
Shore, Rt Hon Peter Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Skinner, Dennis Wareing, Robert N.
Smith, Andrew (Oxford E) Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury) Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E) Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Soley, Clive Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Spearing, Nigel Wilson, Brian
Steel, Rt Hon David Winnick, David
Steinberg, Gerry Wise, Mrs Audrey
Stott, Roger Worthington, Tony
Strang, Gavin Wray, Jimmy
Straw, Jack Young, David (Bolton SE)
Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro) Tellers for the Ayes:
Turner, Dennis Mr. Allen McKay and
Vaz, Keith Mr. Allen Adams.
Wall, Pat
Adley, Robert Durant, Tony
Aitken, Jonathan Eggar, Tim
Alexander, Richard Fairbairn, Nicholas
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Fallon, Michael
Allason, Rupert Forman, Nigel
Amess, David Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Amos, Alan Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
Arbuthnot, James Fox, Sir Marcus
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Freeman, Roger
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Gale, Roger
Ashby, David Garel-Jones, Tristan
Atkinson, David Glyn, Dr Alan
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Baldry, Tony Gow, Ian
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Gower, Sir Raymond
Batiste, Spencer Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Bellingham, Henry Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Bendall, Vivian Gregory, Conal
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')
Benyon, W. Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Bevan, David Gilroy Grist, Ian
Biffen, Rt Hon John Grylls, Michael
Blackburn, Dr John G. Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Hampson, Dr Keith
Boscawen, Hon Robert Hanley, Jeremy
Bottomley, Peter Hannam, John
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n) Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Bowis, John Harris, David
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Haselhurst, Alan
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Hawkins, Christopher
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Hayes, Jerry
Brazier, Julian Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Bright, Graham Hayward, Robert
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Heddle, John
Browne, John (Winchester) Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Buck, Sir Antony Hill, James
Burns, Simon Hind, Kenneth
Burt, Alistair Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Butcher, John Holt, Richard
Butler, Chris Hordern, Sir Peter
Butterfill, John Howard, Michael
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Carrington, Matthew Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Carttiss, Michael Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Cash, William Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Chope, Christopher Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Hunter, Andrew
Cope, John Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Cormack, Patrick Irvine, Michael
Couchman, James Jack, Michael
Currie, Mrs Edwina Jackson, Robert
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Janman, Tim
Davis, David (Boothferry) Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Dorrell, Stephen Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Jones, Robert B (Herts W)
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Redwood, John
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Renton, Tim
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Riddick, Graham
Kirkhope, Timothy Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Knapman, Roger Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Knight, Greg (Derby North) Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston) Roe, Mrs Marion
Knowles, Michael Rossi, Sir Hugh
Knox, David Rost, Peter
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Rowe, Andrew
Lang, Ian Ryder, Richard
Latham, Michael Sackville, Hon Tom
Lawrence, Ivan Sainsbury, Hon Tim
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Sayeed, Jonathan
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Shaw, David (Dover)
Lightbown, David Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Lilley, Peter Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Lord, Michael Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Lyell, Sir Nicholas Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire) Shersby, Michael
McLoughlin, Patrick Sims, Roger
McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury) Skeet, Sir Trevor
McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest) Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Madel, David Soames, Hon Nicholas
Major, Rt Hon John Speed, Keith
Malins, Humfrey Speller, Tony
Mans, Keith Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Maples, John Squire, Robin
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Stanbrook, Ivor
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Steen, Anthony
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Stern, Michael
Mates, Michael Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
May hew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Mellor, David Sumberg, David
Meyer, Sir Anthony Summerson, Hugo
Miller, Hal Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Mills, Iain Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Miscampbell, Norman Temple-Morris, Peter
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Mitchell, David (Hants NW) Tracey, Richard
Moate, Roger Tredinnick, David
Monro, Sir Hector Trippier, David
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Trotter, Neville
Moore, Rt Hon John Twinn, Dr Ian
Morris, M (N'hampton S) Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Morrison, Hon Sir Charles Waddington, Rt Hon David
Morrison, Hon P (Chester) Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Moss, Malcolm Waldegrave, Hon William
Neale, Gerrard Walden, George
Nelson, Anthony Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Neubert, Michael Waller, Gary
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Ward, John
Nicholls, Patrick Watts, John
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Wells, Bowen
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Wheeler, John
Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley Whitney, Ray
Oppenheim, Phillip Widdecombe, Ann
Page, Richard Wilkinson, John
Patten, Chris (Bath) Wilshire, David
Patten, John (Oxford W) Wolfson, Mark
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Wood, Timothy
Pawsey, James Woodcock, Mike
Porter, David (Waveney) Yeo, Tim
Powell, William (Corby) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Price, Sir David
Raffan, Keith Tellers for the Noes:
Raison, Rt Hon Timothy Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd and
Rathbone, Tim Mr. David Maclean.

Question accordingly negatived.

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